Random thoughts

Homelessness as ethical and aesthetic normativity

Shahram KhosraviBeing at home means belonging, but it also means constructing borders and excluding the other. Any kind of group identification constructs the social category of the other. Homes are primarily sites of exclusion, not inclusion. The notion of the home nourishes racism and xenophobia. The German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, himself exiled by the Nazis, believed that ‘it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’ ….

It is only in homelessness that genuine hospitality becomes possible. Homelessness means not recognizing anywhere as home. […] Homelessness as a paradigm, as a way of being in the world, as a lifestyle, as ethical and aesthetic normativity opens the door to accepting the other as she is, not as we want her to be.

Shahram Khosravi, ‘Illegal Traveller’: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders; the reference is to the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno’s work Minima Moralia.

These are radical words by someone who has himself experienced what it means to be homeless. Is Khosravi right that genuine hospitality is possible only in homelessness? It would be all too easy to take issue with this, arguing that it goes several steps too far.

However, looking at it from a Christian perspective, one is reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, who are told that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). The letter of 1 Peter, in turn, is addressed ‘to God’s chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora’ (1 Peter 1:1), who are described as ‘immigrants and strangers in the world’ (2:11). Homelessness, indeed, was the chosen state of the one whom Christians profess to follow and who once said of himself that he had ‘no place to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

Khosravi’s are radical words indeed, but they need to be taken with utmost seriousness if we are concerned about genuine hospitality and accepting the ‘other’ as they are.

Art · Random thoughts

Giant Picnic

JR, Giant Picnic, 2017

On October 8, 2017, the anonymous installation artist known only as JR held a picnic at an enormous table constructed on both sides of the border fence that separates the Mexican city of Tecate from Tecate, California. He had painted the table with a pair of eyes, one positioned on either side of the border.

This communal act of radical hospitality came the month after President Donald Trump had provisionally rescinded the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood ­Arrivals) program that had allowed ‘Dreamers’, undocu­mented migrants who had entered the country as children, a path to US citizenship. As JR was organizing the picnic, Trump had renewed calls for a wall to be built along the Mexican border.

‘Hundreds of guests came from the United States and Mexico to share a meal together,’ wrote JR. ‘People gathered around the eyes of a Dreamer, eating the same food, sharing the same water, enjoying the same music (half of the band on each side). The wall was forgotten for a few moments.’ JR is known for his dramatic, epic-scale works of art, which he has installed in divided communities across the world. More of his work can be seen at jr-art.net.

From Plough no. 18 (Autumn 2018)

Random thoughts

Of spiritual rebels, untamable hearts and a God who is bigger than religion

Here is another instalment of thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise.

On religion or religiosity:

Certain kinds of religiosity turned themselves into boxes into which too little light and air could enter or escape.

On responses, throughout the centuries, to the Church having lost its way:

The wandering ascetic, eccentric sages known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the visionaries like Benedict or Francis or Ignatius of Loyola across the many centuries in which Catholicism was the only way to be Christian – they all emerged at a distance from a Church they experienced to have grown imperial, externally domesticated, and inwardly cold – out of touch with its own spiritual core.

Intriguingly – and rightly, in my judgement – Tippett sees the ‘nones’, those unaffiliated with any particular religion, as the modern-day equivalent to the mystics and monastics who, in earlier times, have called the Church back to its ‘spiritual core’:

The Nones of this age are ecumenical, humanist, transreligious. But in their midst are analogs to the original monastics: spiritual rebels and seekers on the margins of established religion, pointing tradition back to its own untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart.

I love the notion of religion’s ‘untamable, countercultural, service-oriented heart’. Without this, we have little of real value to offer to our world.

And Tippett quotes former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflecting on the meaning of the divine name ‘hayah asher hayah‘, which he explains in transreligious terms:

Don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. Don’t think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

Spirituality

Learning from monks, nuns and friars

Ian Adams, Cave, Refectory, Road: Monastic Rhythms for Contemporary LivingCave, Refectory, Road: Monastic Rhythms for Contemporary Living by Ian Adams, another short book of just under 100 pages, adopts an approach to spirituality and Christian living that seeks to learn from the strengths of the monastic tradition. It represents the movement of ‘new monasticism’, in which key monastic principles are applied to ‘regular life’ in a non-monastic setting.

Such a life finds expression in the cave, which symbolises withdrawal in order to make space for stillness, prayer and contemplation; the refectory, which stands for commitment to a place and community, for hospitality and presence; and the road, the life that is open to travel, encounter and world-engagement.

Adams offers perceptive comments on the monastic rhythm of life with its different approach to time, prioritising prayer, silence and stillness over everything else; and there are thoughtful chapters on the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability, which are reinterpreted as simplicity, devotion, humility and rootedness.

This is a gentle and reflective book that seeks to point the way to an authentic spirituality focused on being and living.